Brazil to act on deforestation if concerns confirmed, minister says

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil will take action if concerns about an increase in deforestation are confirmed, the agriculture minister said on Wednesday as Brazil faces environmental pressure under the terms of the EU-Mercosur free trade deal.

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The deal agreed to last week includes provisions that the two sides must effectively implement the Paris Agreement on climate change as well as other commitments for limiting deforestation, according to an outline provided by the European Union.

But deforestation, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, spiked 88.4 percent here in Brazil's Amazon rainforest in June in the second major monthly increase, according to preliminary data from the Brazilian space agency. The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rainforest and is seen as vital in protecting against climate change.

Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias said that the environmental provisions in the deal between the EU and South American bloc Mercosur match Brazil’s domestic laws and international commitments, and the farm industry is well aware that Brazil must comply with the Paris Agreement.

Dias cautioned that the country should wait to see if the preliminary deforestation data is confirmed but insisted that she and the farm industry share environmental concerns.

“As Minister of Agriculture, I have this concern yes. Development and environment are two sectors that can and should go together, one depends on the other,” Dias told reporters in a briefing on the trade deal.

“If there is a concern, Brazil will act, yes. If there isn’t a concern, we will explain the data to everyone for better transparency.”

President Jair Bolsonaro has railed against what he calls “an industry” of environmental fines, called for the development of indigenous land and other protected areas in the Amazon, and placed climate change denialists in key roles of his government.

The EU-Mercosur deal, which still must be ratified by the countries involved, is expected to increase Brazil’s exports and imports by around 1 trillion reais ($261.35 billion) over 15 years, according to the Economy Ministry.

The deal will boost trade for Brazil’s powerhouse farm sector by lowering tariffs across an array of goods, Dias said.

European officials have already begun to raise concerns over letting in farm products from countries that may have been produced under potentially less stringent environmental protections.

Before the deal was agreed, French President Emmanuel Macron warned his country would not sign if Brazil exited the Paris Agreement, but later said the deal had met France’s demands. But on Tuesday, the French agriculture and foreign ministers said it remained to be seen whether France’s demands were met.

Bolsonaro met Macron at last week’s G20 summit and reassured him Brazil was in the Paris Agreement to stay.

Reporting by Jake Spring; additional reporting by Jamie McGeever; editing by Grant McCool